UPDATE: 16 September 2022
Management at Knauf responded to rolling strikes by workers in Melbourne by locking them out last night. The workers’ reply? Indefinite strike.
The mood at the picket line at 47 Turner Street, Fishermans Bend, was defiant when Solidarity visited today.
Through a combination of shutdowns for safety work and then industrial action, management has lost four weeks’ production at a time when the construction industry is short of materials.
The picket is on each week day from 6am to 2pm. Support the lockout fund.
EARLIER REPORT: 12 September 2022
Workers at Knauf’s Fishermans Bend plant walked off the job on Wednesday 7 September for better safety conditions and wages, and against labour hire.
The Knauf plant and its neighbours manufacture stone and plasterboard products for the construction industry. Without them, Melbourne’s building sites would grind to a halt.
The 60 or so workers, members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), are demanding a 6 per cent wage increase (just under current inflation at 6.1 per cent), 12 per cent super contributions from Knauf, double time on Saturdays and a halt to the expansion of labour hire.
In their 2018 enterprise agreement, Knauf workers kept their conditions and labour hire terms almost completely intact. Today, the Port Melbourne facility only uses a pool of about five labour hire staff to replace permanents on leave.
By contrast Knauf’s Bundaberg, Queensland, plant is almost 50 per cent labour hire. Management would like Port Melbourne to follow suit.
The workers know that labour hire is not just cost-cutting by management. Valuable experience and knowledge of safety thresholds is lost if the workforce becomes more transient.
In this industry, working conditions can be a matter of life and death. The CFMEU has published photos of the assembly line at Knauf, which is thickly coated in a layer of lung cancer-inducing silica dust.
While workers have masks, Knauf has not been providing laundry services, forcing workers to wash contaminated clothes at home and endangering their families. They have no way of knowing the exact effects this long-term exposure will have on their and their families’ health.
For now, Knauf is refusing to budge on labour hire and is offering a measly 4 per cent wage increase a year over the next four years.
But like many other striking workers, the Knauf crew recognise that the ongoing labour shortage puts them in a strong position. They deserve all the conditions they’ve asked for and then some.
By Jason Wong
The Bundaberg plant is not owned by Knauf anymore. It is owned by the Etex Group.